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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Anwar's cabinet starting on the wrong foot?

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government which promised austerity and to do away with big entourages and welcoming parties started on the wrong foot - minutes after members of the cabinet were sworn in on Saturday afternoon.

Just around the corner from Istana Negara, where Anwar’s ministers were sworn in, a large group of civil servants were at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry for its newly minted minister, Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz (above) to make his appearance.

The crowd waited for him to do what Bernama described in a video clip as: “menyumpurnakan majilis simbolik ‘clock-in’ sempena hari pertama beliau bertugas” (Officiating a symbolic clock-in ceremony to mark his first day in office).

Was this ceremony necessary? Even if it was, couldn’t it have waited till Monday? Or was it a carry-forward of the campaigning period when candidates moved around with a train of supporters in tow?

What was the hurry? To silence critics and detractors who expressed disappointment over Zafrul’s appointment despite his defeat at the recent polls? Was it a show to tell the world he enjoys the support of government servants?

Was this all done at his request by some senior official who is used to taking orders from politicians and is someone who wanted to curry favour and show his ability to marshal his subordinates at short notice?

Newly appointed minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

It all smells of political patronage where lesser mortals pay homage to the leader. Has it started creeping into the new government? Despite calls to do away with such activities, it continues – a sign of the patronage and master-servant relationship which is entrenched among government servants.

I don’t know how many senior officers had to cancel their weekend plans and were ordered to attend this so-called ceremony to “pay homage to the new boss” when Saturday is a non-working day.

By contrast, Anwar clocked in at 9am at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in Putrajaya on Friday, after being sworn into office by the King the day before. He was met by the chief secretary to the government, Zuki Ali.

(L-R) Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, Chief Secretary to the Government Mohd Zuki Ali, and Attorney General Idrus Azizan Harun.

Despite the PM’s promise to do away with officialdom, it is apparent that the mindsets of some ministers and the civil service have not synced or some are deliberately defying the call.

Yes, change can sometimes be difficult to make but it has to be done and it must start with the civil service.

I have always argued that civil servants must stand up to their political bosses if they feel that certain orders and requests breach government regulations.

For example, Anwar has decreed that questionable procurements and approval without tender must no longer be practised and that there cannot be any room for leakages and corruption in the public sector.

Will they be able to tell off bosses who want tenders to be given to their cronies instead of going through the proper procedures?

Evidence has been adduced in the court of senior civil servants being ordered to carry out irregular and unlawful practices resulting in certain parties being able to get procurement contracts.

In his first meeting with PMO staff last week, Anwar called on all civil servants to work alongside his administration, acknowledging that it is impossible for ministers to achieve success without the civil service.

Anwar at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Having previous experience working in various ministries, the 10th prime minister said he benefitted from the views and ideas brought forward by civil servants.

The prime minister also said he will also advise his soon-to-be-appointed cabinet members to forge good working relations with civil servants.

“I will be sure to remind them to respect the process,” he said.

Either the ministers have yet to be reminded or some just cannot groove with the new systems or are still tied to the old structure where their word is the command to civil servants. - Mkini

R NADESWARAN is a veteran journalist who writes on bread-and-butter issues. Comments: citizen.nades22@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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